Meanwhile, Cotton's letter was a tactical mistake for Republicans, giving Democrats a reason to rally behind the president even though the GOP's goal is to win over the remaining wavering Democrats to secure a veto-proof majority. But as a matter of substance, the episode underscored the administration's chutzpah. Obama crowed to Vice that "for them to address a letter to the ayatollah—the supreme leader of Iran, who they claim is our mortal enemy—is close to unprecedented." This, even as the president himself secretly reached out to Iran's supreme leader last fall with a letter urging the country's cooperation against ISIS in the region, according to The Wall Street Journal.
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History has shown that Obama is willing to ignore public opinion to accomplish his goals even when it's against his own political interest. The ends, in the White House's view, ultimately justify the means.
When Scott Brown won Edward Kennedy's deeply Democratic Senate seat in Massachusetts by running against the president's proposed health care plan, Obama forged ahead with polarizing legislation that is dogging his administration to this very day. Even though his advisers warned him against issuing any executive order on immigration before the 2014 midterms—citing battleground-state polling showing it would be highly unpopular—he pursued it anyway after his party lost nine Senate seats. In his postelection press conference, Obama copped that he cares as much about the views of the people who didn't vote, rather than citing the decisive rebuke from those who went to the polls to reject the direction he has pursued.
On Iran, Obama's behavior toward the people's representatives in Congress is even more dismissive. Knowing how widespread the opposition is in Congress, the administration is looking to bypass the Senate's role in weighing in on a deal. It's a position that has alienated him even from usually reliable allies such as Sen. Tim Kaine.
Democrats aren't opposing the president out of spite. They're clearly worried that an administration looking too eager to strike a deal with a leading terrorism-sponsoring state could find itself resoundingly rejected by the public—and many of their constituents.
After Netanyahu's decisive reelection in Israel, administration officials leaked that they were mulling punishing the Jewish state by not vetoing anti-Israel measures at the United Nations, an outcome that would align the U.S. with the Palestinian Authority's position. This, despite recent Gallup polling showing that only 15 percent of Americans sympathize more with the Palestinian side, with 62 percent backing the Israeli position.
Being so dismissive of public opinion is a dangerous game to play, especially when it comes to foreign policy. For all his mistakes in conducting the Iraq War, former President George W. Bush secured a bipartisan congressional authorization for declaring war against Iraq, working to rally public support in 2003 to win that approval.
Obama views that equation backward: Getting the outcome he wants, and then attacking his opponents for not going along with him. It certainly hasn't proved to be a healthy process domestically. Now he's trying to extend that approach to the international stage.